The 14 Best Ben Kingsley Movies, Ranked

Sir Ben Kingsley is one of the most acclaimed actors of his time. He's received countless accolades throughout his career and has graced both the silver screen and the stage with a wide variety of roles. It's pretty amazing how eclectic his selection of parts is. Here's someone who can play both the titular role in "Gandhi" and pop up as the silly bad guy in the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy "The Dictator."

Kingsley's most famous roles in films like "Bugsy," "House of Sand and Fog," and "Death and the Maiden" are often cited among his best, but his career is more complex than simply a list of accolades. While his early work distinguished him as someone who would leave behind a grand legacy, Kingsley is still a working actor that continues to pop up in new projects. Between his recurring role as Trevor Slattery in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to his occasional appearances in direct-to-VOD action thrillers, Kingsley has introduced himself to a new generation of fans. Here are the 14 best Ben Kingsley movies, ranked.

14. Self/less (2015)

"Self/less" is the type of generic science fiction action thriller that benefits from having someone like Ben Kingsley involved. The film doesn't avoid any cliches that you haven't already seen countless times before, but director Tarsem Singh has a refreshingly stylized approach that certainly makes the story more entertaining. With that said, the movie itself ranks at the bottom here because it would not be nearly as effective if it wasn't for a few key scenes with Kingsley that bookend the opening and the conclusion.

Kingsley stars as Damian Hale, a billionaire who discovers that he is dying from a terminal illness. As he attempts to prepare for the end of his life, Damian believes that it is important for him to reach out to his daughter, Claire (Michelle Dockery). They've been estranged for years, and even though Damian knows that she has no interest in seeing him, he feels that it's important for her to know how proud he is of her. However, Damian is presented with an interesting proposal by Matthew Goode's Dr. Francis Jensen: he can have his consciousness transferred to the body of a younger man named Mark Bitwell (Ryan Reynolds). Kingsley and Reynolds do a great job of making Damian's characterization consistent in both bodies. While Reynolds handles most of the action sequences, the key moments between Kinglsey and Dockery are powerful.

13. The Walk (2015)

"The Walk" is a relatively charming biographical film that has greater resonance because of what is left unsaid. The film explores the life of the incredible French high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who performed an unauthorized walk on a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. It's impossible to watch Petit's walk and not think about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The film ends with a touching image of the towers standing tall, and is dedicated to victims of the attacks.

It's unquestionably a way for director Robert Zemeckis to acknowledge the subtext, but the film is very much a celebration of the inventive spirit of brave artists. Ben Kingsley embodies these themes with his role as Papa Rudy, a showman who is impressed by Petit's juggling skills while he is in Paris, France. After realizing that this ambitious young man has what it takes to join his crew, Papa Rudy becomes a mentor to Petit. The film does a great job of showing how a community of artists bonds with each other, and Kingsley shows how generous Papa Rudy is to encourage Petit to follow his dreams.

It's fitting that Kingsley gets to play a veteran teaching a younger man, because in many ways that feels like what he's doing with Levitt. Interestingly, Levitt begins to embody some of Kingsley's mannerisms once Petit travels to America.

12. Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

While "Lucky Number Slevin" certainly asks the viewers to make some logical jumps and accept some ridiculous scenarios, it's a really entertaining pulp thriller that lets a lot of great actors simply have fun. Ben Kingsley has an amusing role as a gangster simply known as "The Rabbi."

"Lucky Number Slevin" follows Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett), who is mistakenly kidnapped by henchmen working for a gangster called "The Boss" (Morgan Freeman). The Boss and The Rabbi are in the middle of a war; The Boss thinks that The Rabbi murdered his son, and wants Slevin to take out The Rabbi's son, "The Fairy" (Michael Rubenfeld), as an act of revenge. 

It gets pretty twisted from then on, but both Kingsley and Freeman are able to weave the fine line between legitimacy and ludicrousness. While they both intimidate Slevin, neither actor shies away from the inherently pulpy nature of the material. Kingsley gets a great moment when The Rabbi and The Boss are tied up by Slevin. Even though they are both facing death straight in the eye, The Rabbi can't help but hurl one last insult at his longtime rival.

11. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Many cinephiles believe that Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick represent the core opposites of cinematic language. If Spielberg embraces optimism, emotional resonance, and excitement, Kubrick represents cynicism, paranoia, and trauma. However, Spielberg and Kubrick worked together to bring the dystopian fairy tale "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" to life. 

The film explores the life of a prototype Mecha child named David (Haley Joel Osment). The only thing David wants is to be loved by his adopted parents Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica Swinton (Frances O'Connor), but they're unable to look at him as anything but a replacement for their deceased biological son. The film's conclusion is its most heartbreaking aspect when David wakes up 2,000 years after mankind has become extinct.

Ben Kingsley appears in a crucial moment as the voice of the alien known as "The Specialist," who explains the harsh reality to David. Kingsley's emphatic voice shows how miserable David's life has become, as he will never get to be a "real boy." Additionally, in what perhaps could be seen as an homage to Kubrick's earlier work, Kingsley seems to be emulating the voice of the robot HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey."

10. Sexy Beast (2000)

Jonathan Glazer's stylized crime thriller "Sexy Beast" is already a modern classic. While many crime films in the late 1990s and early 21st century attempted to replicate the cinematic styles of Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie, Glazer feels like he is doing something inventive and new with the genre. "Sexy Beast" is both uproariously entertaining and rather haunting; it shows that once you enter the criminal life, you will never be able to escape it.

The film follows retired criminal Gal Dove (Ray Winstone), who seeks to put aside his past and move on with his wife Deedee (Amanda Redman) in Spain. However, Gal will never be able to escape from his connection to the sociopathic criminal Don Logan (Ben Kingsley). Logan approaches him about a new gig, and Gal is forced to work with him once again.

While Winstone certainly gives a memorable breakout performance, Kingsley acts circles around him in every scene. His idiosyncratic mannerisms and chaotic personality are perfectly in sync with the stylized nature of the story. He chews the scenery without ever sacrificing the film's sense of realism. It's clear by the end of the movie that Kingsley's haunting voice will always linger in Gal's head.

9. Life (2015)

There is certainly a lot of nostalgia for the Golden Age of Hollywood, but "Life" peels back the aura of this era and reveals how challenging the industry can be. The film explores the friendship between LIFE Magazine photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) and a young James Dean (Dane DeHaan), who is on the cusp of stardom. There's a haunting nature to the story, as the audience recognizes that Dean will soon be killed in a car crash.

Ben Kinglsey has a critical supporting role as Jack L. Warner, the president of Warner Bros. during this decade of change. An actor of Kingsley's seniority is the perfect person to play a member of the "old Hollywood guard" who has no interest in anything beyond business. One of the things that Dean struggles with throughout the film is the difference between being a "star" and a "great actor." Dean is ambitious and hungry for great roles. However, he finds that people like Warner only want him to fit within their idealized image of a movie star. Kingsley shows this cynicism in depth. While the film is relatively realistic, Kingsley does get to have some fun chewing the scenery in some moments.

8. Knight of Cups (2016)

Ben Kingsley has certainly worked with an eclectic group of filmmakers within his career, but few directors are quite as unpredictable as Terrence Malick. Malick's style is not for everyone, but he rarely fails to get an incredible group of actors involved in his films. "Knight of Cups" is perhaps the most impenetrable film of his career; the seemingly plotless narrative revolves around screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) as he confronts his grief. The film is composed of eight distinct segments that correspond with various tarot cards.

"Knight of Cups" might be more style than substance for some viewers, but we get a sense of what the film is trying to say through the narration that Ben Kingsley provides. Since Rick is generally unable to resist his impulses, it's interesting to hear the voice that plagues his mind. Kingsley's voice is so magnetic that he makes even the most chaotic party sequences seem profound. "Knight of Cups" might not have anything that ambitious on its mind, but Kinglsey's role at least suggests that there's a method to the madness.

7. Iron Man 3 (2013)

"Iron Man 3" is one of the more divisive installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In addition to being a major stylistic departure from the tone of the first two films, "Iron Man 3" features a twist revolving around The Mandarin character that split audiences down the middle. Some may claim that making The Mandarin nothing more than an actor playing a role was a cop-out, but Shane Black's premise is genius.

The original character from the comics is nothing more than a xenophobic caricature of a terrorist. Instead of bringing to life such an outdated stereotype, Black challenged it. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) recognizes that Americans want a terrifying villain that they can pin their fears on, but they are not willing to accept the systemic issues within their own country. Ben Kingsley is essential to making this twist work, and his early scenes as the "fake Mandarin" are absolutely terrifying.

Once the revelation is made, Kingsley chews the scenery in a completely different way. He is hilarious as an idiosyncratic actor that doesn't realize the damage that he has caused. Considering that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) spends the majority of the film dealing with trauma, it was nice to have an outrageous character like Trevor in the mix to prevent the film from getting too grim.

6. Operation Finale (2018)

Ben Kingsley has never been as terrifying as he is in the 2018 historical thriller "Operation Finale." While Kingsley has played various iconic villains from famous franchises, "Operation Finale" saw him portraying one of the evilest men in world history. Kingsley appears as Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi "architect" behind the "Final Solution." Unlike many of his cohorts, Eichmann escaped justice at the end of World War II. The film tells the powerful story of the Israeli commandos who captured Eichmann and brought him to justice in Jerusalem before a worldwide audience.

Even though "Operation Finale" shies away from graphic depictions of the Holocaust, Kingsley is completely haunting within the few flashbacks the film includes. His direct, unflinching demeanor is enough to send a chill down your spine. What's even more infuriating are the scenes in which the Polish spy Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) tries to "reason" with Eichmann. Eichmann insists that he was simply "following orders" and dealing with logistics, but it's clear that he still harbors a deep hatred for the Jewish people. Playing a real monster is not easy for an actor. Given how strongly Kingsley commits to his roles, getting in the mindset of someone like Eichmann was most likely a huge challenge for him.

5. Shutter Island (2010)

"Shutter Island" features a shocking twist that was delicately laid out by the great Martin Scorsese. While some films that feature shocking revelations fail to live up to the hype on subsequent viewings, "Shutter Island" is so layered with details that it is even more enthralling once you know the central conceit. It's impressive that the actors were able to indicate what was really going on without making the twist too obvious. Ben Kingsley has a particularly memorable role, and you're forced to completely change your opinion of his motivations towards the conclusion of the story.

"Shutter Island" follows U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Solando (Patrica Clarkson) at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, Boston Harbor. Initially, the facility's chief psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley (Kingsley), appears to be avoiding justice; his reasons for being enigmatic are brilliantly explained later on. Kingsley does a great job at showing how this pensive doctor slowly examines people as he talks to them.

4. Hugo (2011)

While it may have seemed odd that Martin Scorsese was making a 3D family film, "Hugo" couldn't have been a better project for him. "Hugo" is a love letter to classic cinema that brings to life the magic of the movies for audiences of all ages. Although the protagonists are young, the film explores the history of cinema as the titular character pries into his father's secrets. It's only fitting that an actor of Ben Kingsley's experience was tasked with portraying the great Georges Méliès, one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.

Méliès created such classic early films as "A Trip to the Moon" and "The Impossible Voyage," which used breakthrough techniques in choreography, set decoration, and visual effects. However, the version of Méliès that Kingsley portrays in "Hugo" is an older man whose legacy has been forgotten. He is now a quirky toy shop owner who is irritated by Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) and his goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). It's only after spending time with these children that Méliès remembers why he fell in love with movies in the first place.

Kingsley explores the mindset of a man who is rediscovering his passions; his expressions of pure joy are endearing. Similar to how Méliès becomes a mentor to the younger characters in the film, it feels like Kingsley is welcoming his younger co-stars into the industry.

3. Dave (1993)

Political comedy is a very tough subgenre to nail. At their worst, films that tackle relevant issues can feel like they are either lecturing the audience or not doing the topics justice. "Dave" manages to work around these issues with its upbeat, positive message. Ironically, this film about the President of the United States has a very simple message; just be nice to people!

"Dave" follows kind-hearted temporal agency worker Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline), who just so happens to be identical to President William Harrison Mitchell. When the president collapses after having an affair, Dave is brought in by White House Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) and Communications Director Alan Reed (Kevin Dunn) to act in the place of the commander-in-chief. The Vice President, Gary Nance (Ben Kingsley), has no idea about the scheme.

Nance is simply a loyal public servant. While the film takes a comical look at the chaos of politics, Kingsley treats Nance's commitment to the issues he believes in seriously. It's satisfying to see his loyalty rewarded toward the film's conclusion.

2. Schindler's List (1993)

Understandably, there's trepidation surrounding any film that takes on a tragedy as significant as the Holocaust. Steven Spielberg makes it very clear from the beginning that while this story does not represent the experience of every survivor, it offers a brief glimpse at the cruelty that they had to endure. The film explores the incredible true story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German businessman who helped transport Jewish people to safety during the height of World War II. However, it's the perspective of his Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), that truly explores the lasting ramifications of genocide.

Stern provides Schindler with the means to transport these innocent people to safety. By claiming that his Jewish workers are essential to his business, Schindler is able to offer them shelter. Kingsley shows the inherent intelligence that Stern has in handling these operations, but that doesn't mean he is emotionless and cold. His quiet, haunting words to Neeson capture the burden of a man who has watched his friends and colleagues suffer.

1. Gandhi (1982)

Playing a historical figure as iconic as Mahatma Gandhi is the type of decision that can either make or break an actor's career. While the role obviously has a ton of dramatic potential, Gandhi is an idealized figure by a significant portion of the worldwide population. Could any single film do him justice? "Gandhi" is about as good as anyone could have hoped for. At 191 minutes, the film explores every aspect of Gandhi's life from his childhood to his death.

Ben Kingsley captures the magnetism of a natural leader. It's a personal insult that inspires Gandhi's nonviolent Indian independence movement against the British Empire. After being thrown off a "whites only" train, Gandhi realizes that he must lead all Indians to fight for their freedom. While Kingsley is able to show Gandhi's righteous anger, he also displays his strategic thinking. Gandhi realizes that any acts of violence could give their oppressors an excuse to lash out at the Indian people. "Gandhi" isn't just a masterpiece; it's an instructive learning tool for people to learn about the life of one of history's greatest leaders. Kingsley starred in a film that will be remembered for generations and earned him his first Oscar win.